Mamie Peace, 94, of Berwyn, a nurse who was the first African American nursing director in the operating rooms at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, died Friday, April 21, of respiratory failure at her home.
The driving forces behind Mrs. Peace’s life were her Christian faith, the importance of education, and compassion for others.
An elegant, articulate, forceful person, Mrs. Peace understood how to be a caregiver and a leader. When those qualities were called for, she stepped forward, even when the times were not welcoming to African Americans and women.
“She was my idol. She put her head down and pushed through it,” said daughter Lynnell, a lawyer.
In 1947, Mrs. Peace joined the operating room staff at Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Welfare Island in New York City, a chronic care facility for the poor.
In 1953, she became an operating room nursing supervisor and clinical instructor at Hubbard Hospital, affiliated with Meharry Medical College in Nashville. The college is one of the nation’s oldest historically black academic health centers.
But it was in the mid-1950s, when Mrs. Peace came to Jefferson, that she made her most lasting mark.
Mrs. Peace rose from operating room nurse to a member of the faculty of Jefferson Medical College. She was assistant nursing supervisor of the operating room; then supervisor and acting director; and, finally, in 1968, the first black director of the hospital’s operating-room nurses.
“Mrs. Peace was passionate about her career as a nurse, and advanced her profession at a time when many women and African Americans were not always afforded the same opportunities,” said Rich Webster, Jefferson hospitals president, and Mary Ann McGinley, a senior vice president and chief nursing officer.
“She was a role model at Jefferson and to many because of her determination and will to succeed," Webster said. "Her legacy is one that is respected, and one that will be remembered here for many years.”
In 1987, Mrs. Peace retired to care for her mother. This February, the hospital held a reception recognizing her contributions. Seated in a wheelchair, she greeted a room packed with well-wishers.
Mrs. Peace was awarded a 1965 citation from the Chapel of Four Chaplains, and at various times received citations from the mayor of Philadelphia and City Council for exceptional service.
While in New York, Mrs. Peace became a member of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. She stayed active in the group, which represents nurses in the operating room. Later, she headed the association’s Philadelphia chapter.
Born in Frogmore, S.C., Mrs. Peace moved to Philadelphia, where she graduated from William Penn High School for Girls. She earned a nursing degree from New York University’s Bellevue School of Nursing in 1947. She completed a bachelor of science degree in professional arts from St. Joseph’s College in Windham, Maine, and received a certificate in personnel management from Pennsylvania State University.
In 1961, she married the Rev. Lee E. Peace. The couple had two daughters. Her husband died in 2009.
Mrs. Peace was a member of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr. Known as “Mom Peace,” she taught adult Sunday school and vacation Bible school, and volunteered with the pastor’s aid ministry.
Besides her daughter, Mrs. Peace is survived by a daughter, Carmella Holloway; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Services were Monday, May 1.
Donations may be made to Saints Memorial Baptist Church, 47 S. Warner Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010.